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The ATL Interrogatories: 10 Questions with Jami Wintz McKeon from Morgan Lewis

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Jami Wintz McKeon is chair-elect of Morgan Lewis and leader of the firm’s litigation practice. She is responsible for the strategic and day-to-day operation of the litigation practice, made up of 700 litigators in 25 global offices.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

Figuring out a way to deliver the same high-quality client service more efficiently and economically. The demand for legal services is static and our clients are facing more financial pressures than ever before. We have to find a better way to communicate value and serve our clients if we are going to stand out in such a competitive marketplace.

2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

There are two big positive changes that come to mind. Technology and diversity. Technology has enabled us to be more efficient in almost everything we do. When I started, I had a Selectric II typewriter. If you wanted to change a brief, it was a day-long logistical exercise. Now we can work more efficiently from almost anywhere and we can respond to client needs right away. Technology has also enabled us to ensure consistency and efficiency in many other things that were unheard of when I first started practicing such as online research, knowledge management tools, electronic timekeeping, and ensuring that a global law firm such as ours is so connected that it operates seamlessly. Diversity is the other big positive change that I have seen since I first started practicing. Although we still have a long way to go, the legal profession is a much more diverse and inclusive profession than when I first started.

3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

Also technology – it is both the biggest positive and the biggest negative change since my career began. The evolution of technology has changed the way we practice. There are good things about this – it allows people to work from almost anywhere. The negative is that immediate responses are expected and there is a tendency to focus on a fast turn-around with less time for analysis. Email is also both good and bad. It allows clients and law firms to stay in touch even when people are on the road, but there is a risk that it becomes the dominant form of communication, and face-to-face – or even voice-to-voice – communications are less frequent. I always encourage our lawyers to pick up the phone and talk to clients, and I try to make it a practice to go visit with our clients regularly. Both of these help to build a deeper understanding of the client’s legal and business issues.

4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?

Helping solve a problem for a client who appreciates the help. One of my earliest experiences was in a pro bono case when I represented a child who was in foster care due to parental neglect. Her mother was later murdered and her father in prison. I helped her foster family complete her adoption and we stayed in touch over the years. I felt like I was able to do something that really made a difference. Over the years, the nature of the problems I deal with has changed, but I always feel the same way when we are able to help a client solve a problem.

5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?

Not being able to make everything right all the time.

6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?

Obsession with client service and a tremendous culture of teamwork. These concepts are embedded in everything at our firm. Even our partner compensation process is focused on gathering information from partners about the client service contributions of others. I’m surprised at how many firms have lawyers competing for “credit,” resulting in partners negotiating to get others to help them. In 32 years at Morgan Lewis, I have never experienced or even heard of anyone refusing to help with any matter for any client. Our firm mantra is that there are no limits to what we can achieve if no one is focused on who gets the credit, and absolutely everyone understands that it is all about the team delivering the best client service.

7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?

Good judgment. It’s the most important thing to have and the hardest thing to teach.

8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?

It’s a tie – Witness for the Prosecution (the old original movie) and My Cousin Vinny (affiliate link). And if we count murder mysteries, I have a ton of them.

9. What is your favorite legally themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Killing Time (affiliate link). It is the true story of John Thompson, a man represented by my partners Michael Banks and Gordon Cooney, who was exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and surviving 18 years on death row in Angola. The book was written by my husband and the case is one we handled so maybe I am biased, but it’s still an amazing story and a fantastic book.

10. What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?

A chef. I love to cook and I find it a great way to relax with my family and friends.

Lateral Link’s recruiters are on pace to place hundreds of attorneys throughout the world this year. We are currently involved in over three dozen active partner searches including opening the office of an Am Law 50 firm in a new location, the merger of an Am Law 10 firm with a foreign firm, finding practice chairs for several Am Law10 firms, and searches for groups of partners in at least ten different cities, including Atlanta, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago, just to name a few. We are currently working with partner candidates with $500k to $35M in portable business. For more information, please call Michael Allen, Managing Principal at Lateral Link.